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Crime is down, but cops are still busy.

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The apartment was small and tidy, with a friendly gray dog swooshing her tail and a big-screen TV dominating one wall.  On the couch sat an equally neat 29-year-old woman dressed in sweats and wearing her hair in a small bun.

She was quietly sobbing.  At 1 p.m., by her own account, she had already consumed a pint of hard liquor.  She wanted to try rehab, but then again, somehow, she didn’t.

Two officers, a man and a woman from the Redwood City Police Department, stood near her.  The man, Officer Jesse Castro, spoke in the soft tones of a social worker.

“It’s up to you,” he told her.  “You’re the one who has to do this.”

“I know,” she said, removing her small horn-rimmed glasses and wiping her eyes.  “I know.”

Castro left her in the care of the other officer, Stephanie Aguilar, who was waiting for medical help.  The visit, known to police as a “welfare check,” was not the first Castro had made to the apartment.  Nor, he suspected, would it be the last.

The call had followed another in which Castro and Officer Daniel Di Bona had been sent to intervene in an argument between two motorists who had met through a fender-bender in a parking lot.  Castro had also stopped in to an auto-body shop near the railroad tracks on Chestnut Street.  The owner was concerned about a homeless encampment behind his business, next to the tracks.

So it mainly goes these days for the Redwood City police – and they’re not complaining.  Thirty years ago, the city was famous to officers around the Bay Area for altercations, gang violence, narcotics and prostitution.  If a cop wanted action, Redwood City was a place to find it.

Sergeant Dan Smith

“When I started, it was a rock-and-roll town,” recalls Sergeant Dan Smith, a 25-year veteran of the Redwood City force.  “There were rocking bars, and lots of bar fights.  We haven’t had a homicide in two years now.  We used to have three, four, five a year.”

Smith, a history major at UC-Berkeley who once aspired to teach school, attributes the change to “the evolution of a city.”  Much of it, he says, has to do with redevelopment, especially in the downtown core.

“It’s made a big difference,” he says.  “Almost all of those bars have shut down.  The Fox Theatre became an anchor to the downtown.  The 800 block of Main Street used to be a hotspot (for crime).  Now we have the Euro Hotel and Angelicas” (as well as a large office-retail complex currently under construction).

The statistics bear out Smith’s on-the-street observations.  According to the FBI, which tracks numbers provided by local police departments, serious crime in Redwood City dropped by more than 47 percent between 1995 and 2017.  From 2017 to 2018, serious crime dropped by 10.45 percent, according to police-department statistics.  (Serious crimes are considered to be homicide, rape, assault, burglary, robbery, larceny and motor-vehicle theft.)

FBI statistics for 2017, the last point for which year-long numbers are available nationwide, show Redwood City is generally safer than California as a whole.  The one exception is rape; some 57 rapes were reported to Redwood City police in 2017, compared with a California-wide number of 37.2 per 100,000 population.  (City officials estimate Redwood City’s current population at 86,380.)  Rapes in Redwood City fell to 46 in 2018.

Mulholland suggests the difference in the California and Redwood City numbers for rape stems from the police department’s efforts to build trust in the community.

“A lot of times people are reluctant to report those crimes,” Mulholland says.  “We have to work very hard with those victims in order for them to feel comfortable.  I would like to think that there is significant trust-building that’s been taking place within our community over the years – they feel comfortable calling the police and they feel that they are freer to report those to us because of the relationships that we’ve established with them.

“If you have a community that’s comfortable with their police department, that’s more receptive to reporting crimes of a delicate nature … that could tend to contribute to an increase in reporting” Mulholland continues.  “There’s always that (possibility) that these crimes could have been taking place all along, but we never knew about them because nobody felt comfortable.”

Smith adds that the type of offense is also important to consider.  Rapes, he says, come in three categories – “stranger” rapes, in which someone is attacked by an unknown assailant; date rapes; and status offenses, such as unlawful intercourse between minors.

“I cannot think of the last time we had a stranger rape in Redwood City,” Smith says.  “Most parties know each other.  ”

Just how safe from crime do citizens feel?  Interviews with numerous Redwood City residents reveal that people consider themselves pretty secure.

“I feel very safe,” says Erin Callaghan, co-chair of the Redwood Oaks Neighborhood Association, located in the vicinity of Woodside Road and El Camino Real.  “On NextDoor, you see people discussing things, and we used to have someone whom the police were working very diligently to get out of the neighborhood, who was a drug dealer and we kind of knew the ‘drug house.’” (Callaghan says the landlord eventually evicted the suspected dealer.)

“I have big dogs, and I have great neighbors,” Callaghan continues.  “We all know each other.  We know our schedules, we know our vehicles, we watch out for each other.”

Asked if she feels safe, Redwood City Council member Janet Borgens replies, “Yes, absolutely.”  She adds, “I do think the world we live in has changed, and we need to be vigilant.”

Says Borgens, who has lived in town since 1969 and the eastside Friendly Acres neighborhood since the early 1980s, “I don’t leave my doors unlocked, I don’t leave my car unlocked, I don’t leave things on my seat.  But I think that’s in any town you’re in, not just Redwood City.  But, yes, living in Redwood City, I do feel safe … There was a time when I wouldn’t walk around certain streets alone, but I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Charlotte Russell, a Redwood City insurance agent with offices on Woodside Road, says she, too, feels secure, adding that she has not seen an uptick in her clients’ property-theft claims.  Kent Johnson, another insurance agent in town, says he has “not had a claim for property being stolen in the last five years” from his 200 to 300 residential clients.

That’s not to say thefts don’t exist.  Last year, the police department logged 1,134 complaints for robbery, burglary and larceny, down from 1,293 the year before.  (Robbery includes a threat to a victim, as in a stickup.  Burglary includes breaking and entering, and larceny involves other types of thefts.)

A map on the city’s website shows property crimes sprinkled around town, with a concentration downtown and the near west side.  (As the bank robber Willie Sutton once famously explained, “That’s where the money is.”)  Redwood City’s experience notwithstanding, Castro, the beat cop, says property crimes generally are on the rise and represent local residents’ top public-safety concern.

“They happen everywhere,” he says.  “No one is immune.  Don’t leave anything visible.  Put locks on your side gate.  If you put that lock on, then a burglar might pick someone else’s house.

“Don’t advertise,” Castro continues.  “A lot of people like to brag on social media about going on vacation.  Thieves look at social media, too.”

Second on the list of residents’ concerns, Castro says, is parking – not just downtown, but in the neighborhoods, as well.

“Parking in this city is ridiculous,” Castro says, adding that he typically writes 10 to 20 parking tickets a day.  Department-wide, Redwood City police issued around 10,400 parking citations last year, according to Mulholland.

“Parking is huge in my neighborhood,” says Callaghan.  “I think in some other neighborhoods that have a lot of apartment buildings, it’s probably worse.  But a very good portion of our neighborhood meeting last week was all about parking.”

Callaghan notes that many of her neighbors are so frustrated by the scarcity of parking that they have posted signs advising “No Parking” and “Parking for Residents Only.”  The police, she says, are currently developing fliers to advise people that the streets in front of their homes are city property and open to all for parking.

Beyond parking, says Officer Di Bona, residents are highly concerned about homelessness.

From a resident’s standpoint, the homeless often make people feel edgy, threatened or even potentially invaded.  Russ Castle, another local insurance agent, speaks with obvious pique about the homeless sleeping behind his business on Woodside Road.  “They bring furniture,” Castle says.  “You could stay here for a day and get a whole education.  Especially on Woodside Road, it’s getting worse every day.”

Callaghan, of the local neighborhood association, acknowledges the presence of homeless people in the area, especially around the interchange of Woodside Road and El Camino Real.  For her, however, the homeless represent more than a local issue, although Mulholland suggests the city, as the county seat and center for welfare and mental-health services, may be something of a magnet.

“It’s just like, this is kind of the nature of our world right now, and we need to figure out a solution,” says Callaghan.  “We can’t just push it off on somebody else so that it’s no longer our problem.”

For the police, the homeless seem to evoke a combination of compassion and professional concern.  Says Di Bona, “They have no place to stay at night, they don’t trust the police, and they’re victims of unreported crimes.”

Whereas the Redwood City police formerly dealt with the homeless through more of an enforcement tack, today the department takes what Mulholland terms a “softer approach.”  Each shift has a designated homeless liaison officer, and the police work with other city and county departments and non-profits such as the faith-based Street Life Ministries, which feeds local homeless people and offers additional social services.

The department’s new method stems from an understanding that the homeless are not just an eyesore or the perpetrators of what police call “quality-of-life” crimes such as public urination and drunkenness.

“We can look at someone and recognize, ‘Okay, this is someone that’s in a mental-health crisis, and they need to get plugged into behavior-health services,” Mulholland says.  “And perhaps there’s a psychiatric evaluation that needs to be done in order for that person to receive medication to then get them stabilized.  And then, (we look for) some sort of warm handoff, where we could then partner with some other entity to try to find some housing somewhere, or placement in a group home.”

“We have officers, including Dan Smith, who I think know every homeless person (in Redwood City) by their first name,” says Borgens, whose husband, Milt, is a retired Redwood City cop.  “And that’s a good thing.  When you engage with them, find out their stories – you know, how many people look at a homeless person in their face?  You walk past them and don’t look at them.  And I think if you get to know that element – because that is part of the criminal element on the streets sometimes – they’re trying to survive and they’re doing what they need to survive.”

“We know homelessness is not going away any time soon,” Mulholland says.  “And it’s not just a law-enforcement issue.  It’s a community issue; it’s a city-wide issue.  So how do we all work together to solve this?”

One problem that seems to be coming under control is gang activity.  Once notorious for gangs and related violence, Redwood City appears to experiencing far fewer gang-connected issues than before.

Part of the solution, Mulholland and Smith say, has been a joint effort between the Redwood City police and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office to drive gangs from the area.  Mulholland also believes that other, more socially focused programs such as the department’s adopt-a-school program and Police Activities League have enabled officers to connect with youths and attract them away from the perceived glamour of gangs.

Even with the decline in Redwood City gangs, Mulholland says they’re still out there, not just in one location but in all parts of town.  Redwood City police continue to participate in a county-wide gang task force among law-enforcement agencies, and work to keep gangs from coming into Redwood City, especially to retaliate for incidents elsewhere.

Less serious than gangs is, nonetheless, something Mulholland says “kind of kills me” – people chattering on social media about crime and suspected criminals in their neighborhoods, without calling the police.

“I’ll hear about somebody saying, ‘Hey, did you see this, or did anybody else have the strange person come by their house after hours, and knock on the door asking to see somebody who doesn’t live there, and they looked really shady?’  Call us.  We want you to call us.  It’s a good idea to let your neighbors know.  But oftentimes we’ll find out that there was never a phone call that was generated to the police department.  We’ve almost been robbed of our opportunity to try to get some kind of satisfaction and address those particular issues.”

Calling the police takes trust, and that’s something the department is working hard to build through programs such as citizens’ police academies, “Coffee with the Cops” (an informal outreach at various cafés around town), and its own social-media outlets.

Run by Officer Chris Rasmussen, the department’s social-media program has won numerous awards, and includes a Twitter feed often laced with humor.  One recent message celebrated National Doughnut Day, and on Valentine’s Day the department showed a motorcycle officer in wait with a radar gun and the tagline, “Making hearts skip a beat since 1930” (the earliest date Rasmussen could determine the city used police on motorbikes).

Residents who want to follow the department can enter “Redwood City Police” in their Twitter search function, or “@RedwoodCityPD” in their Internet browser.  Public-safety information is also available via an online system called “Nixle,” which forwards alerts about weather, traffic, criminal activities, missing persons and local events.  To join Nixle, residents can text their zip code to 888777.  Nixle messages are available in both English and Spanish.

At the department’s headquarters east of U.S. 101 on Maple Street, the 12-week citizens’ police academies are also offered in both Spanish and English.  Mulholland says they fill up quickly with people interested in learning about police work and testing their perceptions of the cops.

One recent participant was Nazia Khanzada, a stay-at-home mom and immigrant from the U.K. with a law degree from the London School of Economics.  She says she was concerned about racial profiling and discrimination in enforcement, mainly through viewing social media and news reports.

“I just wanted to see for myself what the Redwood City Police Department was about,” she says.  “I found it was much more interesting and detailed than I had perceived.”

As part of her experience, Khanzada rode at night in a police car.  Pulling people over, she says, was pretty scary.

“You don’t see people’s faces, because it’s pitch-black.  When you’re actually doing that, it’s completely different from how you read stuff online.  I actually felt the danger.  They can pull over anyone at any time, and you don’t know who’s in the car and how they’re going to behave.  For me, that was really eye-opening.”

Khanzada also found domestic disturbances frightening.

“Your emotions are heightened, and you feel stressed,” she says.  “You don’t know what kind of situation you’re going into.”

Mulholland hopes first-hand observations such as Khanzada’s will lead people to form an independent view of the Redwood City police.

“They’re looking to the media, whether it’s national news, (or) whether it’s online forums,” Mulholland says.  “A lot of times they’re allowing other people to determine what those relationships (with the police) should be, and what their trust levels should be in their police department.”

As local crime falls and the need for social-service policing rises, Mulholland sees changes on the horizon.

“Maybe one might get into police work 30 years ago thinking it’s all about driving fast and issuing tickets and (breaking up) bar fights and solving crimes,” Mulholland says.  “And some of that still takes place.  But we’ve got a much higher demand for the delivery of social services to folks than we did before.”

Today’s service calls may present different challenges than responding to brawls and car chases, but the outcome can be just as consequential.  In December, for example, Redwood City officers answered a call about a man cutting himself with a large kitchen knife, attempting suicide. Tragically, the encounter ended with his being fatally shot. (The district attorney’s office concluded recently that the use of force by the police was legally justifiable and that criminal charges against the officers were not warranted; the family has expressed dissatisfaction with the decision.)

In a city that boasts multi-million-dollar homes and competes daily for high-tech investment, public safety is a paramount concern.  Preventing crime, addressing homelessness and steering kids away from gangs all go into that.  The community’s law-enforcement priorities may be shifting, but for cops like Smith, Castro, Di Bona and Aguilar, the beat goes on.

This story was published in the April print edition of Climate Magazine.

Veterans Memorial Senior Center project design gets council nod

in Featured/Headline/Infrastructure by

Redwood City’s joint project with the YMCA to rebuild and expand upon the aging Veterans Memorial Senior Center moved an important step forward last week.

At its March 25 meeting, City Council received a presentation on the proposed design and estimated cost for the first phase of the project that aims to create state-of-the art facilities for both the YMCA Sequoia and Veterans Memorial Building/Senior Center.

Then in a 6-0 vote, with Vice Mayor Diane Howard abstaining because she is a YMCA board member, council directed city staff to initiate development of construction documentation for Phase I, which includes traffic calming measures in roads near the project, as well as developing the area of the project that includes the new senior center, a parking area east of the senior center, and a new active pedestrian promenade on Nevada Street.

The city aims to release a draft environmental impact report (EIR) on the first phase for the public to view this summer, with the target of September this year for City Council approval of the final project. The city aims to begin construction in December this year, with opening set for February 2022. The first phase is expected to cost roughly $60 million, of which nearly $10 million was appropriated from Park Impact Fees (development fees) and $1 million from Stanford University’s development agreement with the City. The largest portion will likely come from debt financing (lease revenue bonds), city staff said, with estimated annual debt service payments of about $1 million to $3 million in the 10 year financial forecast.

For more than a decade, the community has discussed replacing the Veterans Memorial Building/Senior Center, first constructed in 1956. In 2015, the Sequoia YMCA, seeking to replace its aging facility at Palm Park, entered into an agreement on a joint project with the city to help reduce costs and maximize benefit.

On March 25, city staff shared a video of the proposed design for the future Veterans Memorial Building/Senior Center. Born from ample public outreach, staff said, the project features a modern two-story, 45,000 square foot building with a 266-seat theater, catering kitchen, multi-purpose rooms, senior club room, nonprofit partner offices, gardening space, mini-gym and roof jog track, among other amenities, according to city staff. It will also feature gallery exhibition space honoring local veterans and NFL alumni of Northern California.

A new pedestrian promenade would replace the part of Nevada Street that separates Veterans Memorial Building and the new Sequoia YMCA, the city said.

Meanwhile, the project envisions a new Sequoia YMCA boasting an aquatic center with two pools, one indoor and the other outdoor, an outdoor children’s play area and “state-of-the-art wellness and fitness programming,” the city said.

With help from the new promenade, walkable space in Red Morton Park will be enlarged by the design, with updated landscaping including 100 new trees, officials said.

The project will require replacing The Veterans Memorial Senior Center, Herkner Pool, Wellness Center (Old 49er Building), Resource Building and the NFL Alumni Building.

In response to ongoing neighbor concerns over the project’s potential impact on traffic and parking, city staff proposes parking areas for 288 vehicles. and is developing traffic calming solutions for four intersections, several along Madison Avenue.

ELS Architecture and Urban Design is working with the city and YMCA on the project, which received full support from the city’s Senior Affairs Commission.

“It’s looking great,” commission member Jodi Paley said.

Councilmember Janet Borgens lauded the joint project as a smart opportunity, while Mayor Ian Bain said he felt satisfied by the progress made, calling the design renderings “beautiful.”

As for the cost and plan to take on debt, City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz said staff feels comfortable adding that to the city’s longterm financial forecast given the project’s longterm benefits.

For more information on the project, visit the city’s project site here.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Controversial districting process will change status quo

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
Political Climate with Mark Simon: Controversial districting process will change status quo

As Redwood City hits the reset button on its turbulent districting process, one thing appears certain: The city is going to end up with two districts in which Latinos will be the majority of the voting age population and a third district heavily dominated by an Asian-American voting population.

This will be distressing, no doubt, to those who want to preserve the status quo, which was well represented by the district map adopted by the council nearly a month ago by a 4-3 vote, a map now abandoned in the face of legal challenges that the council was warned were all too likely to be successful.

We can dwell on the fact that the council appeared to adopt a set of maps that was illegal. Or that in a city that is more than 52 percent nonwhite and nearly 40 percent Latino, the council managed to adopt a map that created only one minority-majority district. Or that the council, cautioned by a consultant not to negate the will of the voters who elected them, appeared much too focused on making sure that the sitting council members had a district all to themselves. Or that the consultant who gave them all this advice apparently is working on other projects now.

Not only can we dwell on these things, it appears we did.

For those of you just joining us, the reason for dividing up Redwood City into council districts is that the city is moving from an at-large system, in which all seven council members run for office citywide, to a system of seven districts, where voters elect only the council member who lives within their district. The city was compelled toward this transition under the threat of a lawsuit asserting the at-large system was systematically diluting the electoral impact of minority residents and denying the opportunity to elect more minorities to the council. The seven-member council has only one Latina.

There are those who are unhappy that the city’s political fortunes are being determined along racial lines. I can assure you there are plenty of ethnic minorities who know just how that feels.

Meanwhile, there is an expected amount of maneuvering already underway and speculation about who might run for which districts.

One of six draft maps set to be reviewed during a public hearing at Redwood City Council on April 8, 2019.

We won’t know how that plays out until after next Monday’s council meeting, where they will review new maps (which are posted online here) that have been produced by the new lead consultant and by members of the public, and, presumably, start the process of adopting one. Until then, speculation can wait.

What is likely, however, is that incumbent Councilwoman Janet Borgens, up for re-election next year, is going to end up in a Latino-majority district.

It also seems clear the Latino community has some significant work to do identifying viable candidates in the new districts in which they will be the majority.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: If Redwood City was not the first penguin off the ice floe – that was Menlo Park – the process should be an object lesson to the other cities that are likely to face similar legal challenges to their at-large election systems, most notably San Mateo, Daly City, Foster City, Millbrae and South San Francisco.

Menlo Park appointed a citizens’ commission, which functioned largely independent of city politics. There’s an important distinction to be made, by the way, between a citizens’ committee, which is appointed by a city council, and a commission, which has an inherently more independent appointment process.

Of course, the net result of the process in Menlo Park is that two well-entrenched incumbents were defeated in the first all-district election, which may not be all that attractive to an incumbent council. Interestingly, the two winners were not the top spenders.

LABORING: This weekend’s 50th San Mateo County Progress Seminar in Monterey – the annual gathering of business, government and political leaders to work on the tough issues of the day — was almost derailed by a labor dispute at the Hyatt hotel that has hosted the event for as long as anyone can remember. The hotel ran afoul of a local union, which put up pickets and put the hotel on the no-fly list.

That would be a real problem for the elected officials who were planning to attend the event and curry support from labor for their campaigns, which is almost everyone, and who aren’t going to cross a sanctioned picket line.

But credit goes to Amy Buckmaster, president and CEO of the Redwood City/San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the Progress Seminar, and Julie Lind Rupp, executive officer of the county’s Central Labor Council, who worked out a temporary solution that allows the seminar to go forward at the original site. In essence, they got a one-time waiver for the weekend.

They reached the solution quietly, without a huge fuss and by working together in a collaborative manner rarely seen in labor-business relations. That’s an outcome that is uniquely San Mateo County.

THE POLITICAL CLIMATE: That is the name of the column, after all, and there are plenty of political tidbits to share.

Belmont Councilman Charles Stone is about to declare for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors seat held by Carole Groom, who will be termed out in – 2022. Yes, she just got reelected last year. Nonetheless, Stone apparently feels compelled to start now because there are likely to be more than a few candidates for the seat. Among those who is openly saying he will run is San Mateo Councilman Rick Bonilla.

In the Groom district, San Mateo is the predominant city and Belmont is not even close. That’s reason enough, it appears, for Stone to start campaigning early and often in the hopes of gathering endorsements and money sufficient to discourage Bonilla and, presumably, anyone else. Among those also rumored as possible candidates are Maureen Freschet and Diane Papan, two of Bonilla’s colleagues on the San Mateo Council.

In San Carlos, where a Black Mountain development proposal – notably absent affordable housing – is likely to be one of the hot-button issues, incumbent San Carlos City Councilman Ron Collins is opting not to run for another term, which means the council is losing its most effective veteran. Incumbent Mark Olbert is said to be seeking a third term. The departure of Collins means the council will have four members in their first term.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly stated San Carlos Council incumbent Mark Olbert is seeking his second term, when in fact he is seeking his third term. The story has been corrected.

Parents, need help planning your summer with kids?

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Redwood City Parks, Recreation and Community Services recently launched their summer activity guide to help you plan your summer with kids.

They offer programs in: Arts, Crafts, Technology, Engineering, Science, Recreation, Field Trips, Swimming and various Sports options.

To view the 2019 Summer Camp guide, click here

The programs vary from half day camps to full day camps, and they also offer bridge care, after care and new this year is pre-care.

Pre-care allows you to drop your camper off at 8:00am and an early bird staff will bring your camper and check them in to their 9:00am camp. Not every camp has this option but applicable camps with the sun icon next to them qualify for pre-care.

Bridge care is a way for you to customize a camp experience that fits your families schedule and your child’s interests. Bridge care gives the opportunity for parents to add an additional lunch hour to their half-day camp or piece together an AM and PM camp of their choice. Children will be walked from their morning camp options to the Red Morton Community Center where they will eat lunch in an enclosed room and play yard from 12-1pm. Children will then be walked to their afternoon camp option by our staff.

After care allows staff to pick up campers from their PM camp and walk them to the Red Morton Community Center. Parents are to pick up campers by 6pm. After care is available for the camps with the clock icon next to them.

For more information about the Redwood City Parks, Recreation and Community Services department’s summer camp options, click here.

Local youth challenged to turn trash into art

in A&E/Featured/Headline by

The annual Trash to Art Contest by RethinkWaste is accepting submissions through Friday, April 12, at noon.

Open to 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes and individual students, the contest encourages students to create an art piece using materials that would have been thrown out. At least 90-percent of the artwork must be made from recycled or trash material. The art could include sculptures, collages, murals — all mediums, according to RethinkWaste.

Art pieces should not exceed 3 feet by 3 feet in dimension. Winners will receive prizes and recognition at the annual RethinkWaste Earth Day@Shoreway Event on Saturday, April 27.

Contest participants must live within the RethinkWaste service area, which includes Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, parts of unincorporated San Mateo County, and the West Bay Sanitary District

To learn more about this contest go here.

Sequoia Girls Basketball Team Scores a First

in Featured/Headline/MicroClimate by

The Sequoia High School girls basketball team is still savoring the satisfaction of what is being hailed on campus as the first Central Coast Section championship won by a Cherokee girls team in any sport.

With three freshmen in the starting five last year, the team won 20 games and made it to the CCS semifinals. This year’s 25-5 squad knocked off top-seeded Palo Alto for the CCS Division 1 (large school) title, then lost in the first round of the state tournament to Cosumnes Oaks in Elk Grove on Feb. 26.

“We turned things around last year, took it to the next level this year, and it’s nice we’ll have most of them back next year,” head coach Steve Picchi said. “They’re all great kids.”

Their secret of success? “Good mix of skills and great team chemistry,” Picchi said. “We were hard to scout because of our balance.” The only starting senior, Soana Afu, was the team’s leading scorer and was named to the all-league team.

Picchi has coached the team for 12 years with Mike Ciardella, his Peninsula youth basketball coaching partner for 42 years.

Jacqueline Kurland, one of the three starting sophomores this year, put it this way in a report in the school newspaper Raven Report: “We all love each other a lot, and it’s sad that our season is over. We had a great season, and we are proud of what we accomplished.”

The team: Seniors: Soana Afu, Pafuti Lealamanua, Danielle Huber. Juniors: Sharon Sandoval Rodriguez, Maya Hirano, Sarah Bobich, Jessica Martin, Talita Falepapalangi. Sophomores: Jacqueline Kurland, Caitlin Dulsky, Alexis Jackson. Freshmen: Mary Jane Hartman, Violet Buruaivalu. Manager: Ella Blaney.

A program to install rotating, temporary art in the kiosks at Courthouse Square has brought an intriguing new work that looks like outsized paper DNA molecules wrapped around towering, teetering books.  Called “Incubator,” the installation by artist Kate Dodd was inspired by her multiple trips to the Redwood City Library and is comprised of 2,000 volumes, about 1,500 of which form the towers. The several hundred books on the floor, which are about women or by women authors, created the “foundation” for the book towers. Dodd says books by women authors such as Laura Ingalls Wilder had a big impact on her growing up. She hand-cut a paper network of words and images from books to connect the towers. “Incubator” is on exhibit through April 6 courtesy of Redwood City Downtown Improvement Association funding and with support from the library and the Friends of the Library.

The Redwood City Library Foundation will be presenting STEAM ON THE SQUARE, the largest one-day outdoor STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) event in the Bay Area Saturday, April 27. It will be the fourth annual event and has grown to include more than 80 exhibits, plus experiments, speakers, and demonstrations – the object being to spark kids’ imaginations and help them pursue a career in STEAM disciplines. Hours of the free event are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Entertainment will be provided all day and the San Mateo County History Museum will offer hands-on activities for Maritime Day, which is the same day.

Team photo: Back Row – left to right: Steve Picchi, Soana Afu, Pafuti Lealamanua, Jessica Martin, Talita Falepapalangi, Mike Ciardella.    Middle row – left to right: Alexis Jackson, Mary Jane Hartman, Ella Blaney, Sarah Bobich, Caitlin Dulsky.   Front Row – left to right: Jacqueline Kurland, Maya Hirano, Sharon Sandoval Rodriguez, Danielle Huber.

This story was published in the April print edition of Climate Magazine.

San Carlos window-smash burglary under investigation

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San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies are investigating a window-smash burglary at Borrow Lenses in San Carlos that led to the theft of two laptops from the lobby early Sunday.

Deputies were called to the 1664 Industrial Road store, which provides professional photo and video equipment for rent, at 5:41 a.m.

“The business owner received an alert from the store’s interior surveillance cameras that showed two unknown suspects entered the closed business by kicking in the front glass door,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The suspects, who were wearing hoodies and white medical masks, then tried to kick open a locked interior door, but failed and gave up. They fled the scene with two laptops.

Anyone with information regarding this crime is encouraged to call the Detective Bureau at 650-599-1536 or you can call the anonymous tip line at 1-800-547-2700.

Developer unveils revised Harbor View project

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The Jay Paul Company unveiled a smaller Harbor View project during two community open houses over the last week.

The revised office project on 27 acres along U.S. Highway 101 in Redwood City comes a month after City Council and community members expressed concern about the size of the initial proposal.

Jay Paul’s new project features about 800,000 square feet of office space instead of the initial proposal’s 1.2 million, and has three office buildings instead of four. The complex would support 3,061 workers rather than the original plan’s 4,579, generating 5,959 daily car trips — roughly 2,000 fewer than the previous proposal, according to the draft environmental impact report.

A new element of the project was revealed during the open houses: an indoor/ outdoor community center called Redwood City Commons. The community center’s exact use is still being determined, but the company used the open houses to seek public feedback on what they would like to see the space used for. Ideas proposed for the community center included a meeting space for nonprofits, educational exhibitions, an amphitheater, food trucks or a café.

Jay Paul continues to discuss its changes with the community and learn about what the Redwood Commons can offer.

Marine nonprofit gets a permit – and its beach back

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A marine educational nonprofit in Redwood City that had been struggling for years for permission to restore a beach so people can get to the water has received the final necessary permit – and more than 600 tons of sand.

The Marine Science Institute, which gives kids a chance to learn about the local bay environment, had had a $50,000 grant to repair the eroding beach but couldn’t proceed without a long-sought permit from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The permit finally arrived in an email a few weeks ago, clearing the way for the delivery by barge late Monday of aggregate sand for 115 feet of freshened beach.

“I felt like opening a bottle of champagne last night,” Marilou Seiff, MSI’s executive director said, as she watched a large materials handler shaping the imported sand into a smooth surface Tuesday morning.

Why it took so long to get a permit from BCDC is a matter of debate.  Brad McCrea, the agency’s regulatory director, contends that “lines of communication” between the two parties weren’t as open as they could have been. The best projects, he said, happen when everyone works collaboratively, but MSI resisted hiring a technical consultant with the right kind of coastal expertise.

“The good news is this is all behind us and the beach is open,” McCrea said late Tuesday. “We’re thrilled.”

Before the restoration, MSI’s oyster-shell beach had eroded so badly that people had to step over riprap, chunks of cement and a drop-off to get to the water, according to Jesús Jimenez, MSI’s aquarist and facilities engineer. “Now we have a nice gentle slope down to the waterline. It’s going to mean a huge difference both to kids that come out here every single day and to countless boaters who use the facility.”

Founded in 1970, the Marine Science Institute puts children and older students in direct physical contact with the bay, with instruction on land, the shore and on the water. MSI educates roughly 50,000 students and adults annually through its programs.

Seiff said MSI staff had assumed since it was an historic beach, getting needed approvals to restore it would just take a couple of weeks. It turned out to be closer to six years and required okays from a half dozen state and federal agencies.

Most were “really easy to work with,” she said. MSI had some issues with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but BCDC kept asking for more and more information, Seiff said, including a study that examined the impact of a 100-year flood or rising sea levels.

A coastal engineer MSI consulted estimated that such a study could cost about $20,000 to $25,000 and still not answer BCDC’s questions. “Erosion happens,” she said.  “It’s just a part of coastal communities. It’s just part of nature.”

Meanwhile, the beach was becoming almost unusable. At a BCDC board meeting in December, MSI board chair Andrea Aust put in an appeal to “expedite” the approval of the beach repair that the organization had been working on for five years. Aust told the commissioners that doing the work while school was out would be the ideal time. MSI was also worried about a requirement of the $50,000 grant that the money be spent by Dec. 31. Though the deadline passed, Seiff said MSI was able to get it extended.

BCDC finally agreed to drop the requirement for the erosion study, Seiff said, but insisted that a civil engineer sign off on MSI’s beach restoration plans. An engineer provided the sign-off on a pro bono basis, she said.

The BCDC’s McCrea said the beach project was a simple one and if MSI had gotten a civil engineer earlier, delays could have been avoided. When working along the shoreline in an erosion-prone environment, requiring an engineer who has been involved in coastal processes is “a reasonable requirement.”

McCrea said the engineer who MSI brought in pointed out ways to reduce erosion from nearby boats. BCDC wanted to ensure that the beach is “safe and that it persists and is long-lasting,” he said. He and other BCDC staff reached out to MSI by phone and email early this year with offers of assistance to get the permit issues resolved.

Seiff said staff turnover and manpower shortages, contributed to the lengthy approval process at various agencies. The office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) was “wonderful” in helping with logjams at both the Army Corps of Engineers and BCDC, Seiff said, but what finally seemed to get things moving at the latter agency was media coverage.

“That was when they started working with us,” Seiff said. MSI hopes to acquire more land to extend its beach access and considers the just-completed project “a pilot.”

Petaluma-based Lind Marine honored the price it had given years ago to restore the beach. “We’re absolutely thrilled to be a part of it,” said operations manager Skyler Coleman. “It’s a shame that it took so long and so many hoops to get it done.” But the company is happy to be part of something that is educating the next generation about marine life and taking care of it, he added.

 

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Council changes course on district map amid opposition

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Redwood City is reopening public input and proposals for new council districts, following extensive complaints and public protests about a plan that had been adopted preliminarily by the City Council.

The council is set April 8 to hold “an additional public hearing to receive and review additional maps proposed by the demographer or the community,” according to a statement by City Attorney Veronica Ramirez.

More than 50 people, the majority of them from the Latino community, rallied outside City Hall Monday in protest of the district map that had been approved by the council on March 11 by a 4-3 vote. The council was scheduled to take a second and final vote on the map last night, but removed the matter from the agenda late last week amid mounting objection.

The reason for dividing up Redwood City into council districts is that the city is moving from an at-large system, in which all seven council members run for office citywide, to a system of seven districts, where voters elect only the council member who lives within their district. The city was compelled toward this transition under the threat of a lawsuit that asserts that the at-large system was systematically diluting the electoral impact of minority residents and denying the opportunity to elect more minorities to the council. The seven-member council has only one Latina.

Opponents of a proposed council district map rallied at Redwood City Hall during the City Council meeting Monday, March 25, 2019. (Photo: Jim Kirkland)

Opponents of the district map approved by council on March 11 say it doesn’t achieve fairness for minorities, creating only one Latino-majority district. The map, critics say, also fails to create another district in which minorities are the majority of the voting age population, despite a citywide ratio that is 52 percent non-white. The map also faces criticism for not putting the Redwood Shores neighborhood in a single district with Bair Island.

At Monday’s rally, protesters said they felt ignored after making several efforts to influence the map-making decision.

“The outreach was very little and very quick,” said Redwood City Realtor Arnoldo Arreola.

Protestors were carrying signs that read, “We Are Redwood City, Too,” and “SOY – Shame On You.”

“We want respect and we want a seat at the table,” said Yeshua Villa, a freshman at Woodside High School.

“We want an elective body that’s better reflective of our city,” said Connie Guerrero, a leader of Latino Focus and one of the organizers of the rally.

During closed session Monday, council decided to reopen public input on the map-making process. And then during open session, Ramirez made a statement about that decision, and Mayor Ian Bain urged the community “to take a close look at proposed maps and submit new ones.”

Rally organizers were pleased with the decision.

“I’m so glad they heard our voices,” said Guerrero.

She said she expected the renewed process to result in at least two districts in which Latinos are the majority of the voting age population.

Opponents of a proposed council district map rallied at Redwood City Hall during the City Council meeting Monday, March 25, 2019. (Photo: Jim Kirkland)

In the city attorney’s statement, which was issued following a unanimous vote by the council to waive the restrictions on closed-session disclosure, Ramirez said that the demographers who had been hired to shepherd the city through the districting process, “in a reversal of their previous statements … informed city staff for the first time it was possible to address the public concerns while still adhering to race-neutral districting criteria as well as criteria that the community and the council had identified as being important.

“Before the City Council continues the process of approving a final map, the city’s demographer has been instructed to determine whether there are alternative maps that both comply with all federal and state laws and additional concerns members of the community have raised,” Ramirez said.

At the April 8 public meeting, “the city may decide on a final map,” Ramirez said.

An earlier version of this column incorrectly described the makeup of the City Council. 

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